Sunday, April 5, 2020

Dartmouth, Devon


In the list of things I’ve meant to post, for ages, but not got round to, the south doorway of Saint Saviour’s church, Dartmouth, must be near the top. As so often with medieval church doors, it’s the ironwork that stands out. Indeed ‘stands out’ is putting it mildly. This ironwork gets up and roars at you, ‘Look at me! Have you seen the like?’*

What we’re looking at above is the the top half of the door, which shows one of two strap hinges in the shape of stylised heraldic lions. As well as incorporating the working hinges (at the tail end), the lions help tie together the half dozen wooden planks that make up the door. They stand in the branches of a tree, and their extended bodies look heraldic.

This lion’s face is crudely drawn and, frankly, not very leonine, although there are traces of jagged lines, presumably to indicate a mane, incised on the creature’s chest. The tail, doubling back on itself, its thin length ending in a tufted tip, is clearly a lion’s tail, however. Such tails (and the raised front paw) are very much drawn from heraldic convention, witness the three lions passant guardant on the English royal arms.§

The tree the lions stand in has gently curving branches and a few charming notched and serrated leaves. It’s the style of these leaves that suggests to most authorities† that this ironwork is medieval, and probably 15th century. The date on the door, 1631, may indicate when a major repair was carried out. Whatever the date, this ironwork is a terrific example of English craftsmanship producing something satisfying – a strong image that also makes for a strong and effective door.

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* Special thanks are due to the Resident Wise Woman, who got busy with her camera while I just stood there in amazement.

§ They’re certainly not literal copies of heraldic lions – there are lots of details that would make a herald send them back to the drawing board – but surely that’s where the inspiration came from.

† Such as the inspector who wrote the listing text for the building, and the most recent edition of the Pevsner volume for Devon.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I have to disagree with the experts! Remembering that this is ironwork, and the serrated design of the leaves is very stylised anyway, it seems far more likely that the "1631" is the same work as the rest. I noticed "survivals" of 15th-early 16th-century- style on 17th cent. monuments - in Ireland and elsewhere. Church at South Malling near Lewes a very good piece of 15th cent work, except the porch, but documented for early 17th century. Other examples?